The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
ARNOLD

IT IS well known that Matthew Arnold was strongly under the influence of both Wordsworth and Goethe. He was not averse to philosophical speculation in poetry. And one might expect him to have turned out nature-poetry of high significance. But as a matter of fact his references to nature in the abstract show a certain confusion of attitude. Sometimes they are conventional and admiring; more often perhaps they are critical and disparaging. And throughout they are lacking in the warmth and richness that marked the romantic treatment of nature. This is presumably due to his want of enthusiasm for either science or religion, the two main inspirers of nature-worship. One feels at once, in reading Arnold, that one has reached a period distinctly more "modern" than that of Wordsworth; that the poet no longer makes those religious assumptions in regard to the universe which were latent in Wordsworth's philosophy of nature. He is the least transcendental of English poets; and no German inspirations had come in, as with Emerson and Whitman, to give a new lease of life to nature.

Equally marked is a certain aloofness, in his poems, from the scientific movement of his day. There is very slight reference to evolution. Most of his poems were written before the publication of The Origin of Species or before the evolutionary idea had gained wide currency; and he did not have, it seems, the natural bent in the direction of scientific thought which enabled Emerson, Tennyson, and even Browning to anticipate the prevalence of these ideas. He was of course familiar with the materialistic philosophy of Lucretius and Empedocles; but its chief effect on his thought was to emphasize the divorce between man, with his spiritual faculties, and the "universe of things." In the early "In Utrumque Para

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